A particularly loud and annoying round of indoor fireworks sent an unsuspecting Jamal Crawford diving for cover behind a teammate during pregame introductions Friday night.
That marked the last time Crawford looked overmatched or unprepared for a challenge.
In a mostly head-to-head matchup with good friend LeBron James, Crawford snapped out of a slump and helped the Bulls do so as well with a much-needed 87-80 victory over Cleveland.
Crawford, playing all 48 minutes, tied his season-high with 30 points and helped harass James into 7-of-24 shooting as the Bulls ended a four-game losing streak and an eight-game road skid.
At 4-10, the Bulls own more road victories than all of last season, when they went 3-38.
"Man, we needed this one," said Crawford, who added five assists. "LeBron definitely put on a show in Chicago [last Saturday] and they won. I wanted to step up because I knew I couldn't miss forever. I was due."
Kendall Gill added 21 points for the Bulls, who passed Orlando and Atlanta to escape the NBA cellar.
Fittingly, Crawford's three-pointer with 7 minutes 58 seconds remaining gave the Bulls the lead for good in a physical game. Strong defense and a hustle play in which Kirk Hinrich knocked away a potential breakaway on a possession in which the Bulls ultimately stopped Cleveland helped seal matters.
With the Bulls leading 83-80, Corie Blount blocked a driving layup by Kevin Ollie with 25.9 seconds remaining.
Blount then passed to a streaking Crawford for a breakaway dunk.
"I knew Ollie was going to try to throw a hook because I've watched him play," said Blount, who had three blocks.
Blount was the only reserve to play in the second half as Bulls coach Scott Skiles rode his starters despite Friday marking the start of a four-games-in-five-nights stretch.
Antonio Davis contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds in 39 minutes.
"What can you do?" Davis said. "That's the business. I'll get some rest and a massage and be ready to go. But it's going to be rough."
Despite being short-handed, the Bulls exhibited good energy, opening the halves with runs of 7-0 and 9-0.
"We're at a point where whoever shows up for the game, we have to play them," Skiles said. "In a back-to-back situation, it wouldn't be my first option to play Jamal 48 [minutes] or Antonio 39. But the rhythm of the game dictated that I leave that unit out there.
"Plus, Jamal had it going. He was playing well and deserved to stay out there. I've done the other to him, where I've taken him out when he hasn't deserved to stay out there. If you're doing one, you should be fair in the other regard."
And sore ankle or not, Crawford isn't complaining.
"I feel fine," he said. "I needed that."
Crawford's offensive fireworks even forced Cleveland to switch James away from him in stretches.
"Jamal had a great night," James said. " He's one of the elite point guards in this league and when he's on fire like that you can't stop him."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times